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Redstone Arsenal Through The Years

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Redstone Arsenal Through The Years

Published 2003
Topics Army, weapons, arsenal

History of Redstone Arsenal - "Redstone Arsenal Through the Years." Produced by Michael E. Baker, Command Historian for the US Army Aviation and Missile Command.

Run time 11:35
Producer Michael E. Baker
Sponsor US Army
Audio/Visual sound, color


On July 3rd, 1941, fire trucks raced through the city delivering copies of a special edition of The Huntsville Times announcing that a totally new era was about to begin in North Alabama. Tiny farming communities in the Huntsville area received news that they would soon be affected by profound changes. The ARMY was coming. Huntsville would never be the same.

While the spectacular successes in the more sophisticated field of rockets and guided missiles tend to overshadow its previous accomplishments, the Redstone Arsenal complex established a commendable record in World War II as one of the best equipped, most productive chemical munitions manufacturing centers in the nation. Over 45-million units of ammunition were loaded and assembled for shipment at the arsenal complex between March 1942 and September 1945, and more than 27-million items of chemical munitions having a total value of over $134.5 million were produced. For their exceptional work, personnel at the arsenal complex won the prestigious Army-Navy “E” Award nine different times for their outstanding record in the production of war equipment.

Once World War II ended, the focus shifted from production to the demilitarization and salvaging of munitions and the deactivation of the huge manufacturing facilities at the arsenal complex. Some of the empty buildings and lands were leased to private enterprise.

By 1949, part of the arsenal was advertised for sale. But the sale never happened. A series of events soon transformed these facilities and opened an entirely new chapter to the installation’s history.

Thanks to vision and efforts of Major General Holger N. “Ludy” Toftoy, and the shrewd lobbying by Senator John Sparkman, Congressman Bob Jones, and officials from the Huntsville area, Redstone Arsenal’s mission had been totally revamped by 1950. It was now the center of Army missilery and rocketry. The new mission included the transfer of Wernher von Braun and his team from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Redstone. By 1956, Redstone’s scientists, engineers, and technicians had transformed such weapons as the CORPORAL, HONEST JOHN, REDSTONE, NIKE AJAX, and NIKE HERCULES from dreams and plans into realities.

As Redstone prospered, so did the city of Huntsville.

The period from 1956 – 1960 under the command of Major General John B. Medaris was one of the most nationally publicized period’s of the arsenal’s history. Frequently, General Medaris could be seen on national television or testifying before Congress urging funding for his programs. The magnitude of the operations Medaris managed is reflected in the fact that his command’s budget approached $2 billion in Fiscal Years 1959 and 1960, about 25 percent of the Army’s budget for those years.

When Medaris’ team began their work in 1956, they had the primary mission of fielding the Army’s first intermediate range ballistic missile, the JUPITER. By August 1958, this system was delivered to the Air Force for early deployment overseas. The JUPITERs later proved to be a significant bargaining chip in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During his command, Medaris’ team also had several other notable achievements in the missile and rocket field as they fielded the REDSTONE and HAWK; accelerated the development of the NIKE ZEUS system, a predecessor of today’s Army Space and Missile Defense Command; and began the development of the PERSHING missile system, a system whose improvements would later play a major role in ending the Cold War.

It was also during this time that the Army at Redstone made a number of contributions that helped lay the foundation for U.S. space exploration. In August 1957, they recovered intact a nose cone from a JUPITER-C flight test, the first time that a man-made object had been retrieved from outer space.

However, in October and November of 1957, the Soviets launched Sputniks I and II, shattering American dreams of scientific and technical superiority. Amid mounting public pressure to respond to the Soviet challenge and due to the repeated problems with the Navy-managed satellite program known as Project Vanguard, the Army was given the green light and successfully launched America’s first satellite, EXPLORER I, on January 31, 1958, a mere 84 days after receiving the mission. The Army at Redstone’s facing and meeting this challenge not only restored U.S. prestige, but it also jump-started the extraordinary growth and tradition of excellence that has become a hallmark of both the Redstone and Huntsville communities.

Other noteworthy achievements by the Army at Redstone in the space field during this period included launching the first successful American lunar probe and the first U.S. satellite to go into permanent orbit around the sun; initiating the development of the million-pound thrust engine that became the nation’s moon rocket; and recovering the first living beings, Monkeys Able and Baker, from a flight into outer space.

However, the Army’s role in the space field began to change dramatically when President Eisenhower concluded that it would be in the Nation’s best interest to make the Von Braun team a part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As a result, on July 1st, 1960, the Army officially transferred about 4,700 Army civil service employees and more than $100-million in facilities and equipment at Redstone and Cape Canaveral, Florida, to NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.

But, it is important to remember that within a year after this transfer (May 5th, 1961), it was an Army-modified REDSTONE that provided the initial boost for America’s first manned space flight of Commander Alan B. Shepard. An Army-modified REDSTONE also served as the booster for the Mercury flight of Virgil “Gus” Grissom in July of that same year.

Many soldiers and civilians who come to work for the Army at Redstone Arsenal are astounded when they learn of the significant role that the Army played in paving the way for the U.S. space program. From these roots grew a spirit of achievement, a legacy that has continued even after the Army at Redstone lost its space mission.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the Army at Redstone focused on using what it had learned to get into space and applying that knowledge to supply our soldiers in the field with the best possible weapons.

By 1962, the U.S. Army was undergoing a sweeping reorganization. One of the results of this reorganization was the creation of the U.S. Army Missile Command (MICOM), which was activated on August 1st, 1962, at Redstone Arsenal. One of the significant changes was the establishment of project managers for missile system programs.

During the 1960s and 1970s, much of the technology Redstone Arsenal had been working on began to mature. The Francis J. McMorrow Missile Laboratories were dedicated on March 12th, 1964, in memory of MICOM’s first commander who died while still in command. These research, development, and engineering facilities established the reputation as being among the best in the Army. Especially noteworthy is their role as a center for laser research. For example, they helped the National Cancer Institute investigate the use of lasers to destroy malignant tumors. And, they pioneered the laser guidance concepts and techniques used by the U.S. Air Force in the development of their laser-guided smart bombs.

Redstone got a pretty good idea of how well it was doing in June 1967 during the 6-Day War. Israeli troops downed several Egyptian jets with HAWK missiles, marking the first combat firings of U.S. Army missiles.

Another significant highlight of this period occurred on May 2nd, 1972, when the TOW missile mounted on a UH-1B Huey helicopter became the first American-made guided missile to be fired by U.S. troops in combat.

It was also during this period, in May 1974, that all ballistic missile defense efforts were consolidated under a single manager in the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which eventually evolved into today’s U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

In the 1980’s, the Army at Redstone began building in great quantities many of the weapons that it had developed in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the best examples would be the PERSHING II. First deployed in 1983, this system’s increased range and pinpoint accuracy were major factors in influencing the Soviet Union to sign the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 in which the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate an entire class of nuclear missiles. The PERSHING had done its job and was retired with honor.

In 1991, we got a glimpse of what things were like in the late 1950s as the Army at Redstone stood at the forefront of the news as the Desert Shield/Desert Storm operations unfolded. At that time, it was the largest deployment and subsequent combat use of Army missiles in Redstone Arsenal’s history. Virtually every one of the arsenal’s missile systems was deployed. HELLFIRE missiles launched from an Apache helicopter fired the first shots of the war, taking out early warning radars and paving the way for the Air Force’s campaign. HELLFIRE and TOW missiles went on to destroy hundreds of Iraqi tanks, personnel carriers, and other vehicles during the course of the war. MLRS rockets rained down on the Iraqi artillery units and other targets so effectively that the Iraqis referred to them as Steel Rain. And the Scudbuster, better known as the PATRIOT missile system, became a household word.

One of Redstone’s strengths has been the excellent relations it has had with the Huntsville community over the years. One example of that cooperative spirit is the amount of land that the Army here has donated to the community to improve the quality of life in the area.

Redstone positioned itself for the 21st century when it opened the John J. Sparkman Center in August 1994. This state-of-the-art facility soon became the model for future Government construction requirements.

A landmark day in the history of Redstone Arsenal occurred on July 17th, 1997, when the former Army Missile Command (MICOM) combined with the aviation portion of the U.S. Army Aviation and Troop Command (ATCOM). A totally new organization, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), was born. The Army had now entrusted Redstone Arsenal with the management of two key components of the Army After Next – missile firepower and aviation platforms.

September 11th, 2001 – the world as we all knew it would never be the same. As a result, America embarked on its War on Terrorism and Redstone once again was ready to answer the call. For example, we utilized for the first time in operations our HELLFIRE missiles mounted on a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, we achieved a significant first when the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 defense system (better known as the PAC-3) was used for the first time in combat. And, our aviation platforms filled the skies providing protection and delivering troops and equipment.

America’s sons and daughters will continue to look at us right here at Team Redstone and its depot partners at Corpus Christi and Letterkenny to provide the very best possible equipment to preserve the peace. They do so because they know that the Team Redstone family has always made excellence the cornerstone of their work and support. That tradition of success will continue to make Redstone an enduring installation as we move forward in the 21st century.


Reviewer: Claus Martel - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 11, 2006
IT'S NOT BOB DARIUS! Mike Baker is the Command Historian at the US Army Aviation and Missile Command. This is a re-cut of a longer (30-minute)video he did in 2001.
Reviewer: Nike Bob - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 11, 2006
Subject: Great historical Overview
I'm familiar with Bob Darius at AMC HQ and he's done a great job with this film.
Reviewer: couryhouse - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 3, 2006
Subject: Great NIKE footage - showcases air defense during the cold war.
Great NIKE footage My favorite part of course!- showcases air defense during the cold war.
See more history on the NIKE system at Southwest Museum Of Engineering, Communication and Computations goto

We have links to some other NIKE Footage, oral histories and photographs. Please feel free to let us know if you would like to be interviewed on NIKE or would like to assist in running a section of the site at

Many thanks Ed Sharpe Archivist For SMECC
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